Sep 12 2018

BBC publishes secret U.S. documents from 1980 coup period

The British Broadcasting Corporation’s Turkish-language news site, BBC Türkçe, has uncovered secret U.S. diplomatic documents written in the aftermath of the 1980 coup d’etat by the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara of the time, James Spain.

The documents, which BBC Türkçe accessed through a freedom of information request lodged in 2011, reveal a high regard for the military leaders of the coup, who Spain called “well known to us.”

The coup, headed by Chief of the General Staff Kenan Evren, took place on Sep. 12 1980, by the military’s account to put an end to violent conflicts between factions from Turkey’s right and left wings that had escalated throughout the 1970s.

Fifty people were executed in the aftermath of the coup, while hundreds of thousands were detained, with thousands of cases of torture and enforced disappearances reported.

“(It) is important to remember that the right/responsibility of the Turkish Armed Forces to intervene in politics is more deeply established and accepted in Turkey than in most other democratic countries. In short, this is not a Latin American Junta coup,” said Spain’s missive.

Rather, the U.S. envoy urged the document’s recipients to view the 1980 coup “against the background of prior Turkish military restraint,” applauding the military for what he called “scrupulous regard for constitutional amenities on those occasions when they have considered it necessary to exert direct influence on military leaders.”

This, of course, was Spain’s assessment of the military since the last coup, which took place just eight years prior in 1972.

“Recent developments on the terrorism and public order scene cited, in the takeover announcement, have in gact put severe pressure on the Turkish military to act, albeit reluctantly,” Spain said.

The U.S. ambassador went on to assure readers that the military leadership would be trustworthy allies.

“All of the present military leaders are well known to us, and we have no reason to be concerned about a change in Turkish security or foreign policy, certainly including continued membership in NATO,” Spain said.

The ambassador did express some concern about the effect of the coup on Turkey’s democracy, saying the United States should promote the “quickest and most complete possible restoration of democracy” without concealing its objectives.

However, this should be done without “unnecessarily (alienating or insulting) the new authorities,” and expressed a desire to hold off for several days before recommending a position on the detention of Turkey’s foremost political leaders, including Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit.

“More important in these first days will be our public posture. I recommend that U.S. government spokesmen confine themselves to stating that we are keeping a close watch on the situation and limit comment to foreign policy implications,” Spain said.